Dear Christopher,

“Pants and comic books” Sister Catherine roared as she waved the chalkboard pointer over our terror stricken heads. We 50’s girls in our Catholic school were shivering with fear. Sister was furious that those distractions took us away from conjugating Latin verbs. Back then it was not unheard of for a teacher to whack a student. In the Catholic boys’ schools priests were known to beat the stuffing out of recalcitrant boys. Yes, in the bad old 1900s (as your daughter characterizes them) using physical punishment on children was common. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the prevailing belief. My mother was an enthusiastic proponent. Aunt Judy and I knew the wooden spoon on our backsides and even slaps wherever she could reach. She was not alone, since it seemed common in other families as well.

All JoyParenting styles change, thank goodness. In the 70’s when we were raising you kids we certainly did not believe in physical punishment, but on occasion I think we slipped. You can tell us how often. Today parenting styles have changed even more. In Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun she finds today with children coming later in life to middle class parents they are more treasured. They permanently “highjack your heart” (but that was true in the bad old 1900’s too). Now there are so many societal pressures on parents to engage and celebrate children, to make sure they turn out happy and well adjusted. (As if anyone knows for sure how to do it at any time in history.) She calls it “concerted cultivation.” Just a quick glance at the vast number of parenting books in any bookstore can tell us this concern with raising children exactly right. We just had good old Dr. Spock back then.

I can see it in the parenting styles of you and your brother. You both are more active with your children than we ever were. You played with them more when they were younger and you plan more activities together than we ever did. You and Patrick especially work so hard at parenting. Of course your children’s issues surrounding their adoption require more care. However, I can see how being gay dads seems to add tension. Certainly the lack of a mom in the house adds a strain, especially for primary school children where a great deal of discussion involves Mommy. Somewhere I read that being a minority in a culture adds stress to one’s life. I wish it were not so, but I can see that it is. Because of being on the cutting edge of openly gay men raising children you have more pressure than others have.

As a grandmother I worry about all our grandkids. The vast explosion of technology has created a bewildering world for us to navigate. I see how you try to limit the screen time your children have. They know so much about the various media sources that have burgeoned in recent years. It continues to grow exponentially. I worry how this evolving technological revolution will impact your children, will impact you, as they grow older and are less under your protection.

Sr. Catherine could not have imagined what else would prevail for the girls of the 50’s grandkids. Threatening violence and occasionally carrying through mitigated the distractions in her students’ lives. Fear and shame were her very effective tools. Thank goodness that is not the solution today. But I wonder how she would handle students with so many more distractions at their fingertips like texting and video games. In addition parents now must decide how young people should interact with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram among other media sources. Pants and comic books seem mild in comparison.

Love, Mom